**And in the interest of keeping things from getting too spoilerly, I'm going to be purposefully vague on some of the details.
Like any good sprawling fantasy, The Bridei Chronicles span several countries and lots and lots of characters. But mostly the series focus on one special boy named Bridei who is being raised to become the next great king of Fortriu. And it all begins with The Dark Mirror. Fostered out to be raised strictly by the powerful druid Briochan, Bridei is taught everything from a very young age -- history, politics, warfare, and even the lore of the druids. But such a demanding life is lonely for a young boy until one night when The Shining One sends a gift to Bridei, a tiny, perfect baby girl. Even though he immediately knows this baby is anything but human, Bridei claims her as his own sister and names her Tuala, against the wishes of Briochan. From the start, Briochan fights Bridei's affection for Tuala but the gods have a different fate in mind for them all.
I so love the set up of this series. Family, loyalty and above all learning when to put yourself second and when to put your wants and beliefs first. And it's all so intricately woven together: politics, history, intrigue, religion and enough adventure and trials to make your head spin. After watching Bridei and Tuala grow up and face numerous challenges it was so amazing to see them come full circle and come into the destiny they were always meant to achieve. And the mythology! Juliet Marillier is a master at weaving details of the Pict and Celtic (new this time!) gods right into the fabric of her stories. She never misses a beat with her gorgeous prose and characters. Bridei is one of those heroes who is so good but who has worked so exceptionally hard to be good that you don't even mind him winning at everything. In fact, it just wouldn't be right if he didn't.
Picking up about five years after the satisfying finish of The Dark Mirror, the next installment, The Blade of Fortriu finds Bridei and Tuala happily ensconced in their new castle while planning a large scale battle with the Gaels. In hopes of securing one last piece of political and military strength, Bridei has sent of his good friend and political hostage Ana, Princess of the Light Isles to marry an unknown Caitt chieftain named Alpin. To make sure she is safe and the appropriate terms met, Bridei also sends his most trusted though somewhat shady man-at-arms Faolan to see the mission through. But disaster upon disaster follows the company. Compounded with the layers of dark secrets they encounter once at Alpin's fortress, it'll take all of Faolan's cunning and Ana's perceptiveness to keep them from utter failure.
If there was one single character from The Dark Mirror who I wanted to see more of it was Faolan. Who wouldn't? As a Gaelic spy and assassin, Faolan is one of those dark, forbidding types who you just know has history. And boy, does he ever. I might have done a happy dance when I discovered he would be a featured character in Blade. His character was so extremely layered and slippery that I was extremely anxious for him for about 90% of the book. Oh, Ms. Marillier, you sure know how to spin out suspense to the extreme! My only complaint would have to be with the princess Ana. I was with her until about half-way through the story when she really started to get on my nerves. Which I admit was a first with a Marillier character, but luckily she did manage to develop a back-bone and I became interested (if only somewhat lessened) again. While The Blade of Fortriu didn't wind up to be my favorite book of series, it did end more than satisfyingly that I thought it might. Aaaand it served as an extremely important setup to the final book in the series. Which contains more Faolan. Don't you know I dove into that one straight away?
In The Well of Shades, Bridei is so close to finally realizing his dream of united and peaceful Fortriu. But he knows it is crucial to discover who are his true allies and those who are simply biding their time to strike once again. For this delicate mission, Bridei once again turns to his trusted friend and spymaster Faolan (yay!) who is not a little unchanged after his disastrous mission to the Caitts in The Blade of Fortriu. Hoping to finally put some of demons to rest, Faolan begins a journey to his homeland to collect intelligence and to fulfill a dying promise to a trusted friend. What he finds is Eile, a young girl who has more strength than Faolan has ever encountered.
To be honest, I really didn't know what to expect with this final installment in the Bridei story. While it does follow Faolan on his journeys for a large portion of the book, Ms. Marillier did manage to spend quality time with Bridei and Tuala and their many struggles at Cloud Hill for much of the story. Which was a happy reunion for this reader to be sure. How gratifying it was to see Bridei handling the challenges of being a king in a true partnership with Tuala. I just love the trust and respect between those two. And then there's Faolan. Goodness, I couldn't have imagined a better ending for that scarred man. Eile was a perfect feisty and fearless yet totally selfless foil to Ana's pale boring goodness (I know, harsh) from the previous book. Honestly, she's probably one of my new favorite Marillier heroines (right up there with Sorcha and Liadan) and I couldn't think of anyone better to challenge and love Faolan. All said and done, this was a stand-out series with intricately woven conflicts and much in the way of the power of redemption. There's a reason I will read simply anything Juliet Marillier writes. This series is a prime example.
series reading order:
~ The Dark Mirror
~ The Blade of Fortriu
~ The Well of Shades
Because everyone likes a second opinion:
Book Harbinger's review book one, two, three
Calico Reaction review book one
Chachic's Book Nook review book one
book source: bought